Debunking Ethical Realism

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William J. FitzPatrick’s “Debunking Evolutionary Debunking of Ethical Realism” functions to refute several related arguments against realism. I will not go into detail on any of those arguments. Instead I will try to summarize FitzPatrick’s understanding of our moral beliefs’ ability to track moral facts and his general response to debunking arguments.
It will be useful to have a brief sketch of the type of argument against realism that FitzPatrick has in mind. He grapples with two general forms of debunking arguments, both of which state that the source of moral beliefs is separate from moral facts. One form yields skeptical outcomes for realism because our moral beliefs would be extremely unlikely to track facts that are not their source,
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FitzPatrick argues that such forces do not stand in the way of our grasping moral facts, and in doing so sketches his own view of realism. Foremost in his view is that we are capable of grasping moral truths. It is this grasp that debunking arguments contend is impossible, whether because our mental capacities and moral beliefs are distorted by evolution or by something else. But FitzPatrick says that evolution does not necessarily distort our capacity to grasp moral reality. It is reasonable, he says, to assume that we evolved mechanisms (such as cooperation) that both allow us to live longer and allow us to form a correct understanding of morality (17-18). Is it equally plausible that we “evolved capacities for logical reasoning and conceptual sophistication,” however crude, that we can now use as refined moral tools (8). So the fact that our minds are shaped by evolution does not mean that we cannot grasp moral facts as long as evolution gave us even the most basic cognitive capacities to allow us to reason and reflect critically on moral questions …show more content…
And because it is possible that evolution did give us the mechanisms for our moral beliefs to track moral facts, simply stating that independent moral truths do not explain our moral beliefs is begging the question. The debunking argument makes such a statement, so it assumes that realism is false in order to prove that realism is false (20). It might just as easily be true that some moral beliefs are explained by moral facts, some by evolution, and some by a combination of both in which we have good reasons and evolutionary cause to believe something (23).
At best, the debunking arguments reveal a challenge to realism, not a defeat of it. The proposed challenge would be to explain how we evolved to have the rational capacities that allow us to grasp moral facts and, as FitzPatrick also suggests, how we evolved the emotional capacities to grasp such facts (30-31). He believes that it is plausible that we have evolved in just such a way. So with the addition of reasoning and emotional training it is plausible that our moral beliefs track moral facts, rather than being distorted by forces such as

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